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EDITORIAL: Undermining airport security

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

House Democrats have a big gift wrapped up for their union backers. Waiting for a vote is a bill to give collective bargaining rights to 45,000 airport security screeners. This benefaction to Big Labor puts the security of American travelers at risk.

Both the House Oversight and Government Reform and Homeland Security committees have approved legislation authored by liberal Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, that would provide collective bargaining power to most Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel. An overwhelming number of TSA employees are airport screeners.

This initiative would come at a great price to taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the move would raise agency costs by nearly $700 million in just five years. CBO cost estimates tend to be low, and the $700 million doesn't include incalculable long-term costs.

Collective bargaining power would further undermine performance expectations at an already flailing federal agency. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has documented extensive problems at TSA over the past several years. Examples of lax security include serious passenger- and baggage-screening failures and insufficient tracking of the security passes and uniforms of former employees. In tests to evaluate screener performance, Government Accountability Office officials were able to sneak low-yield detonators, explosives and incendiary devices onto planes. This incompetence is an open door to terrorists.

The response from the two screener unions has been to push the performance bar even lower. In June, both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union urged TSA Acting Administrator Gale D. Rossides to suspend use of the agency's skills test for screeners. Failure rates this year reached more than 50 percent and were as high as 80 percent at some airports. The skills test shows that large numbers of airport screeners are failing at jobs that are intrinsic to keeping our airports and commercial airplanes secure, and the union's response is to get rid of the test.

The government employees union is also pushing to have failed screeners' records cleared because pay and bonuses are tied to performance and unsatisfactory employee records prevent those who were fired for poor performance from being reinstated. So much for worker accountability.

Big Labor has never liked the idea of workers being required to prove their effectiveness and is fighting to undermine merit pay at TSA. When the safety of Americans is on the line, it's imperative to have the ability to screen workers and base their pay on satisfactory performance. Collective bargaining power will give more leverage to labor unions and inhibit the flexibility needed to meet evolving security threats. This dangerous bill should be shot down by Congress.